Asif Ali made 51, 52, 17 and 22 and he made his way into Pakistan’s World Cup squad. These 142 runs came in four games against the top-ranked side in ODI cricket at their home. They came at a strike rate of 131.48.
Despite not having anyone with anywhere near that strike rate, he didn’t make the original World Cup squad. Once he made it, with runs and form behind him, Pakistan didn’t pick him for their opening tournament game against West Indies despite not having anyone else for a position which would otherwise be crucial to finishing off the big starts their top order was giving them.
In their second game against England they brought Asif Ali in and dropped Imad Wasim. Against England in the ODI series just before this game, Imad had taken six wickets and, in a very high-scoring series, conceded 6.37 runs per over. They also brought in Shoaib Malik who, at that time, was averaging 14 with the bat in England over his career. They wanted his experience and calm on the field. They dropped Haris Sohail who is considered by the Pakistan management to be the second-best batsman in the squad behind Babar Azam.
Shoaib Malik has been under-par with the bat so far Getty Images
Then they took on Sri Lanka and, fortunately for their selection group, the game got rained off and they didn’t have to pick an XI.
Australia next, at Taunton, and the pitch looked green and friendly for fast bowlers. They brought in Shaheen Afridi to bolster their pace attack and dropped Shadab Khan. The latter is their best ODI player and absolutely essential to their bowling attack. They thought they’d be fine getting ten overs from Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. They went 11-0-86-1.
Shadab is also their best fielder, the one who sets the tone as much as he can in what is now the worst fielding side in the tournament. Pakistan dropped two catches – one as a direct result of Shadab not being where he would usually be – and were generally abysmal in the field.
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Against India, Pakistan put Shadab back in the XI and also Imad, dropping Asif and Shaheen. They kept Malik in the side, despite his last three scores reading 4, 8 and 0. Experience, they reasoned, they needed his experience. He was out first ball.
Pakistan have made six changes over three games after their opening match. None of them have been injury induced. They have argued the reasons for each change, but whether they are tactical or strategic, it’s clear that they have little idea what their best XI is. Five games into this tournament.
Asked about the decision to drop a specialist bowler and batsman on Sunday, Sarfaraz Ahmed insisted it was the right move. “I think it was right. We were going with five bowlers and six batters. So I think our decision was right.” Similarly he had defended the decision to drop Shadab against Australia.
Imad, who’s been at the receiving end of these decisions, was suitably diplomatic when asked whether Pakistan knew what their best XI was. “I can’t give an answer to this. Only the captain and the coach can. Whatever XI we put on the field, the players try and do their best.”
That isn’t a surprise given that they weren’t all that sure about what their best XV for this World Cup should be. They picked Abid Ali on the basis of two innings in their provisional World Cup squad. Then, having allowed him just one game in the series just before this World Cup, they dropped him.
Mohammad Amir was always going to be a part of their plan, even if he wasn’t in the provisional squad but Wahab Riaz had not played an ODI in two years when he was suddenly pulled into the squad. He was nowhere on the scene or in their plans and yet here he is, one of their more successful players. Mohammad Hasnain, picked for his youth and pace, has not played a single game yet and is unlikely to until Pakistan are definitely out. There will be almost certainly be changes for the next game against South Africa too.
This is a tournament which they have been building up to for the best part of two years, for which they have actually had a very good run-in, for which they actually have a good, young core of players to work with.
“We need to win our next four matches now, we need to play well,” Imad said. “Other results are not in our hands but we need to win those four games.”
For that, they will need to first figure out what their best XI actually is.